She doesn’t think of herself as remarkable.
During the day, she puts forth her human face, making small talk about politics or literature, music or current events, and often she just tells people what she thinks she’s expected to say.
At night, on the wrong side of the moon’s zenith, her delicate blue eyes fill with tears and she prays to a god she doesn’t believe in to give her strength.
She thinks of herself as just another girl.
She sees the other girls, and she smiles at them with an open mouth, her white teeth bared and her eyes trying desperately to hide what she’s thinking. If they knew how she wanted to be them, if they could sense how plain she was, they would laugh and laugh. Already she sees them staring at her clothes bought off the rack at a discount store and she knows they know her handbag is a fake.
No one thinks of her first. Her phone is silent on the weekends unless she picks it up to dial.
She wonders desperately if they dislike her. She tries so hard to be considerate, but sometimes she says things that come out all wrong. The words lie when they come out of her lips, no matter what her intention.
Sometimes she goes places alone, just to prove to herself she can. She doesn’t need them to keep her company; she can have fun on her own. She tells herself it doesn’t matter.
She wanders out to the empty boardwalk and stands at the end, watching the seagulls shiver in the late October afternoon.
The sun cuts around her as it trails thick and orange across the wooden planks.
She stares out at the waves and blinks back tears.
* * *
He spends all his time obsessing over women. He can’t talk to them, can’t relate anything in the proper way. His friends laugh at all his jokes, call him things like “witty” and compliment his sense of humor.
But when he tries to connect to a girl, he’s suddenly stricken dumb. He can’t even think of his name, what he does.
He’s not bad looking, his chestnut hair is thick and wavy and his green eyes stand out from his face intensely.
Sometimes girls ask him questions, where he’s from, what he does for a living. He has a speech memorized.
“My name is Bobby Jones.” He’d say, and smile. “I grew up here on the ‘bay, just down the way from the Bay Bridge. I am a project manager at a company that makes security software.”
Except that he never got it out. Sometimes it comes out as a squeak. Sometimes, his thin lips open and close like a goldfish, and no sound comes no matter how hard he tries.
He calls it his girl-stutter.
At work it doesn’t matter. In meetings, he’ll get into a mode where it doesn’t matter how pretty she is, or how delicate her lashes are around her eyes, he can shut it off and pretend he is on a phone call instead of looking into her face.
Sometimes after meetings, his female co-workers would try and make small talk with him on the way down the elevator, in the lunch lines. He would stumble through whatever words he could get out, and rush off claiming another meeting was imminent.
He tries to pretend that he’s on a phone call talking about work when he talks to girls sometimes, but it never works. Once, he started babbling about metrics and requisitions and the girl’s brown eyes grew wide as she backed away.
It’s hopeless, he knows. His friends have tried to help him, tried to force him into situations where he had to talk, parties and happy hours, double dates.
Most of them ended with disaster. The pressure started building in his head, and he slipped out as quickly as he can, more often than not.
There’s a girl that he sees sometimes, and he has a whole relationship with her in his head. She’s different than the others, she smiles with a sweetness that melts his stutter away.
He visualizes entire meetings with her, how they’ll go, what he’ll say.
Sometimes she comes down to the pier, and stands framed in the sunset, watching the waves roll in.
Maybe today he’ll do more than nod to her when he passes her on the deserted boardwalk.
Maybe he’ll smile and say “hello”. Maybe he’ll offer to buy her a cup of coffee.